I married my husband in the summer of 2006, after two years of dating and then living together. The engagement ring he bought me was expensive and oh-so shiny – a ring I had waited my whole life to receive.
I posted photos of it on Facebook and proudly displayed my jewelery upon the request of friends. I’d spent my childhood dreaming of weddings, and, more importantly, of unconditional love, of being “just right” for someone. To me, his proposal from him meant I’d finally found what I’d been missing in my life: someone who would love me forever.
We bought matching wedding bands that we wore 24/7. He took his off of him every day at the gym, tying it to his shoelaces of him, before putting it right back on after his workouts of him. Until one day, when he lost it. We immediately ordered a new one, but I was hurt that this happened, though I never mentioned it, knowing how needy and silly it sounded. Still, it felt meaningful, somehow, that he could have lost such an important symbol of who we were and what I meant to him.
I was relieved to see the new ring on his finger the following week; proof he was mine.
Then I got pregnant. My fingers swelled up like sausages, and both rings went into a safe, hidden spot. They’d be back, I knew, and my growing belly was proof enough of our commitment, right? Then I got pregnant again, and then again, and my fingers never quite recovered from the weight gain/loss cycles.
After that, one of our children began to struggle with a variety of concerning medical diagnoses. I started to battle with my own choices, my own sense of identity as a stay-at-home mother who now needed to spend her days at appointments, homeschooling, fighting with schools and the world about supporting my kids in the ways they needed. Gone were my career goals, or any personal goals at all – now my focus was on my family. On keeping us all okay.
Once the pandemic hit, my husband and I had to become a new type of caregiving team. The weight of our personal, hard, world was too much for me on my own, and he stepped up to take on his share of it.
That was around that time that I realized it’d been years since I’d worn my wedding ring, and that he’d lost his (again) a while back and we hadn’t even thought about ordering a new one. When you are laser-focused on supporting your kids’ mental and physical health, tag-teaming every daily caregiving task, a ring is the last thing on your mind.
It was during those early months of the pandemic that I also realized that a) nobody ever asked about my marriage status and b) I had long ago stopped questioning my partner’s love or commitment. In fact, our marriage seemed to be stronger than ever. We had a great sex life, enjoyed hanging out every day, and talked through the arguments and power struggles that marriage inevitably brought up. Whether or not we wore our rings just didn’t matter to either of us.
Walking down the street with three children is its own public display of relationship status, of course. But whether I am out on my own or saying goodbye as my husband heads out on a work trip – at no time does this concept of ownership, of others’ knowledge of my marriage, play into my thought process anymore.
So I was taken back by a recent series of social media interactions on the topic, which led to a lengthy discussion among friends about wedding rings and what they stand for. A visual marker of “wifedom” has long been of social importance, throughout much of the world, but to have a friend tell me, “You’re basically giving your husband permission to cheat, you know,” was shocking, to say the least.
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There are a wide variety of attitudes about marriages and relationships, all worth exploring, but a ring is only as meaningful as we choose to make it. Someone’s commitment to honesty and transparency cannot be swayed or strengthened by a symbol, a piece of metal. Our marriage is monogamous, and traditional in many ways, but who I am is not defined by my husband or by our relationship. My value as a person is not added to or subtracted from because of my marital status.
It took me heading into my fourth decade of life to truly understand this, to appreciate what I brought to the world on my own. This has led me to love my husband more, with less expectation and more gratitude, and it has also led me to question other habits and traditions that don’t necessarily improve our lives and relationship.
I still love my wedding ring, nestled softly in its tiny silk pouch. It’s pretty, and it reminds me of the day my husband promised to love me forever. But he’s here beside me because he wants to be, because he makes that commitment every day – to push through the rough patches and stay best friends. Not because he made a promise a long time ago and put a ring on my finger from him.
And I make that same daily commitment to him.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.